Government decisions to go ahead with badly put together projects and not poor project management are to blame for cost escalation on major infrastructure schemes, a senior construction client has warned.
The former head of capital investment at a major UK client has hit out at plans for a multi-million major projects academy to boost skills in the civil service.
Earlier this month Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced plans to spend £6.7M on a major projects leadership academy to train civil servants in a bid to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
The government hopes the move will reduce “over-reliance” on what is describes as “expensive” external consultants.
In future no one will be able to lead a major government project without completing the three year-long academy programme.
The Said Business School is to run the academy, with 50 civil servants a year expected to be put through a combination of formal teaching and personal development.
But the senior industry source said the initiative failed to tackle the root cause of project failures.
“Why do projects get screwed up? Was it because there were no civil servants to oversee the project? No. It’s because they were rubbish projects.”
Pointing to disastrous projects such as the recently binned £12bn NHS IT system, he asked: “Where was the analysis behind the decision to invest?”
Joined up thinking needed
“Now we have an idea for spending a lot of money with the Said Business School. People are asking ‘how does this academy fit with the government’s stated objectives?’ How does it fit? I don’t know. None of this is joined up.”
He added that too many large infrastructure projects were announced prematurely by politicians wanting to gain advantage before research has been done to prove their value.
Academy director and Said Business School fellow in operations management Paul Chapman defended the initiative, saying it was about “upgrading” civil servants’ leadership abilities and “helping them make strategic decisions”.
“Presumably there is a benefit to having a more informed client and if the government can only nudge it in that direction it can only benefit,” he said. “If the government raises its game then it’s likely that industry will also have to raise its game.”
“This is an important step in our plans to reform the civil service,” said Maude.
“We want to build world-class project leadership skills within government.
“Starting with our current leaders, we will develop a generation of professionals that is internationally recognised for its skill and expertise.”